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With cereal production dropping, 39 countries face food crisis, UN reports

With cereal production dropping, 39 countries face food crisis, UN reports

Use could exceed production in 2006
With world cereal production forecast to decrease slightly in 2006, 39 countries are in need of external food aid, the majority of them in drought-stricken affected and chronically food-short southern and eastern Africa, according to the latest United Nations update of the situation.

The report, released by the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), warns that if global cereal use in 2006/2007 remains close to recent trends it will exceed the current forecast for production, which could lead to a drawdown of global cereal stocks for the second consecutive year.

In Africa, 24 countries are currently in need of aid, largely due to adverse weather, conflict and economic crisis. In east Africa, recent rains have somewhat eased drought in pastoral areas of Ethiopia, Somalia, Kenya and Djibouti, but nearly 8 million people are still suffering from the effects. When the chronically vulnerable populations in these countries are included, the number of those at risk from hunger jumps to 16 million.

In southern Africa, the difficult food situation of some 12 million people has eased with the current good 2006 cereal harvest and food aid distributions.

In western Africa, the 2005/2006 cereal crop is estimated at above average levels but in countries bordering the Sahara, despite a recovery from last year’s drought and locust-affected harvest, a combination of low incomes, high debts and relatively high prices is limiting access to food by many households and malnutrition rates remain alarmingly high in numerous areas.

In Asia, the outlook has deteriorated in India but is positive among other main producers in the region. Emergency aid is needed in Mongolia and Timor-Leste following sharply reduced cereal production in 2005/2006.

Substantial amounts of food assistance are also required for chronically vulnerable populations in the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK) and Bangladesh in spite of overall improved food supply, as well as for those affected by civil strife in Afghanistan, Iraq and Nepal. Protracted aid also continues to be needed for victims of the 2004 tsunami in southern Asia and last October’s earthquake in Pakistan.

In Latin America and the Caribbean, wheat output is anticipated to be substantially up in Mexico. Sharply reduced maize is forecast in Argentina, but production will recover in Brazil. But Brazil’s rice crop is expected to be well below the record level of 2005. In Paraguay, the soybean crop will again be sharply reduced by dry weather.

Wheat output is expected to decrease in 2006 reflecting smaller crops in the United States, Russia and Ukraine, due to adverse weather. Production of coarse grains is tentatively forecast to decline, mostly as a result of reduced plantings anticipated in the United States. Rice output may increase as very early prospects are favourable, according to the FAO report.